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Obama Nominates Two to Fill Vacancies on Labor Board

President Barack Obama is nominating two members to the National Labor Relations Board as the U.S. agency is in the middle of a partisan fight over the role of government in regulating business.

The nominations of U.S. Labor Department official Sharon Block and union counsel Richard Griffin were announced yesterday, a week after the NLRB withdrew its case against Boeing Co. over building an airplane factory in South Carolina.

Block, 46, is the Labor Department’s deputy assistant secretary for congressional affairs. From 2006 to 2009, she was senior counsel for the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee under the late Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts. Griffin, 55, is general counsel for the International Union of Operating Engineers and was on the board of the Lawyers Coordinating Committee at the AFL-CIO since 1994.

Fred Wszolek, a spokesman for the Workforce Fairness Institute, which oppose unions, said Obama isn’t likely to win Senate confirmation of Block and Griffin.

“President Obama’s nominees to the NLRB represent a holiday gift to big labor, except this time around there is little to no chance the package will make it under the tree as Congress appears unlikely to support the nominations or allow any recess appointments,” Wszolek said.

Democrats control 53 votes in the Senate, where agreement by 60 senators is needed to move ahead on any legislation or nomination.

‘Pointless Exercise’

“This appears to be a pointless exercise as the past actions by the board have so poisoned the well that it is highly unlikely these nominations will go anywhere,” Randel Johnson, who manages labor policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest business lobbying group, said in an e-mail.

Obama’s nominations may be an effort to show labor unions - - whose support he needs in his re-election campaign -- that he understands and cares about their issues, said Gary Chaison, a labor professor at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts.

“It shows he intends on making the NLRB the true protector of workers’ rights if only he is elected, so he needs their campaign support,” he said. “Even if the nominees never make it through, the mere fact of the nomination shows that the White House cares for workers and unions.”

Republican Effort

Republicans in Congress have sought to curb the NLRB’s powers after the Boeing case, which was raised as an issue by Republicans running to oppose Obama in November. An earlier board nomination by Obama has stalled in the Senate.

The five-member board has two vacancies and the term of Democrat Craig Becker, a former lawyer for the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union, will expire tomorrow, leaving two members and not enough for a quorum. Obama formally withdrew today Becker’s nomination for a full term.

Obama’s nomination in January of Terence Flynn, a Republican labor lawyer, hasn’t been taken up by the Senate. The board has three members of the president’s party and two from the opposition party.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled the NLRB can’t make decisions with just two members.

The board spurred Republican ire after the complaint filed in April by its acting general counsel said Boeing violated laws protecting striking workers when it decided in 2009 to build a factory in South Carolina for the 787 Dreamliner plane. South Carolina is among 22 states with so-called right-to-work laws, letting employees opt out of joining a union.

Boeing Factory

Executives with the Chicago-based company said when they announced the plan that they were seeking production stability in South Carolina and that the decision was made for financial reasons, not retaliation. Boeing’s workers in the Seattle area went on strike five times since 1977, the NLRB said.

The complaint was withdrawn on Dec. 9 after Boeing and its Machinists union reached agreement on a contract. Even with the resolution, some Republicans said they would investigate and try to rein in the board through legislation.

A Republican-backed measure to restrict the NLRB’s authority passed the House on Nov. 30. Representative John Kline, a Minnesota Republican and chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, said last week after the Boeing complaint was dropped that congressional action on the NLRB “has never been more urgent.”

Republican presidential candidates, led by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, have targeted the labor board in debates and campaign rallies as an example of job-killing regulation by the federal government.

Block and Griffin were praised by Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest union federation.

“Both have long and deep labor law experience and understanding of workers’ issues,” Trumka said in a statement.

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